I’ve lived in the Georgia Congressional 6th district for a long time and I’ve never seen anything like the Jon Ossoff campaign. If you went to the gas station, his signs were there. If you went to the grocery store, you’d find his flyers there. If you went to your mail box, you’d find his postcards there. Chances are if you looked at your cell phone you’d find a text message from his campaign there and it was nearly impossible to watch television without eventually seeing Ossoff’s face appear on the screen.
It was as though Ossoff’s name and face were ubiquitous. He was everywhere, trying to reach everyone. In many ways, this was both the cleverness and the curse of the Ossoff campaign.
On the one hand, Ossoff’s political brand saturation strategy put together the most exciting and politically captivating congressional race the 6th district has ever seen. To their credit, as a result of this strategy, many new voters have been added to the election process and there is a viable Democratic Party infrastructure developing that hasn’t been in this district since before Jimmy Carter was president.
But Ossoff’s brand saturation strategy was also a curse. Instead of simply introducing him to new voters it also pissed off and mobilized the old ones. And when I say “old ones” I’m talking about the same old citizens who have consistently come out to vote the past 30 years and who have made the 6th a republican stronghold. These highly educated, mostly white, fiscally conservative, right of center Republicans saw Ossoff’s campaign omnipresence as a political siege and call for resistance. The end result being the Republican base outperforming an energized Democratic Party voter turnout campaign that spent a historic and ridiculous amount of cash only to lose by approximately 12,000 votes.
This, however, was not the only reason Ossoff lost the 6th. More than brand saturation the primary problem was messaging. Whether they admit it or not, the Democratic Party thought Ossoff could ride the wave of Trump hate into Washington DC. This is why Ossoff’s campaign platform was pretty much a conglomeration of cherry picked issues that appealed to various 6th district interest groups topped with the ever motivating “help us stand up to Trump” message.
The problem with this message is it lacked any compelling progressive vision for the future. It also lacked anyway to substantively convince the average politically uninterested citizen why they should give a damn about the Democratic Party. The message simply says, “vote for us, we won’t be as bad as the other group.” This is how Hilary Clinton lost the general presidential election, this is how Jon Ossoff lost last night and this is how Democrats will continue to lose if they don’t get the message right.
As a radical democrat in the tradition of Frantz Fanon, Ernesto Laclau, Rosa Luxemburg, Chantal Mouffe, Roberto Unger, Cornel West and Walt Whitman, I’ve always felt unrepresented living in the conservative 6th district. So the prospect of having democrat representation, even in the form of a moderate like Ossoff, excited me.
But if I’m honest, what would excite me more is having a real grassroots political movement come into form that is not fueled by big outside money. A movement where the values of progressive minded working class people are taken serious. A movement where people are valued over the fiscal bottom line. A movement where the uplift of poor people is a major part of the policy agenda. A movement where empowerment of the demos and the education of the citizenry becomes a national initiative. A movement that advocates for America to finally become as good as its promise.
Until a movement like this comes democrats will continue to lose and people like me who live in districts like the Georgia 6th will continue to feel unrepresented and under-served.